Real life is stranger than fiction in North Korea – yet again.
Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the eccentric former Detroit Pistons basketball star, flew into Pyongyang for the second time in a year to talk sports with his “friend” Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator. Rodman said he intended “to see how he’s doing, how the family’s doing and just visit the country.” Asked whether he’s going to aid the American missionary Kenneth Bae, whom North Korea detained in November 2012 and its Supreme Court subsequently sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp for committing “hostile acts,” Rodman passed, saying he’s “not a diplomat.”
Just last week, North Korea revoked its invitation to Bob King, the US ambassador for human rights issues in North Korea, at the last minute. King was invited on what the US State Department characterized as a “humanitarian mission” to seek Bae’s release.
So what does the trade-off of King for Rodman mean for the likely agenda this week? For starters, count out discussions about prison camps like the one Bae lingers in. Forget talks about the abhorrent political prison camps (kwan-li-so) holding as many as 200,000 North Koreans in conditions of rampant torture and mistreatment, with near-starvation rations and brutal forced labor.
Count out talks about the kinds of rights abuses that were the subject of gripping public testimony in Seoul and Tokyo during a United Nations Commission of Inquiry. The testimony described public executions in town squares and shoot-on-sight policies against North Koreans trying to flee the country. And North Koreans face lengthy imprisonment for simply possessing a Chinese mobile phone or a DVD of a South Korean soap opera.
In place of Bob King, expect instead photo ops, colorful comments, and maybe a drinking session featuring Rodman’s recently released Bad Boy Vodka brand. Expect a surreal propaganda story for media consumption that will do little to help the North Korean people.